Drama and confusion erupted last evening during part of a public engagement called by the developers of the Hyatt Ziva Barbados Resort to share information and get feedback on the US$175 million project for Bay Street, The City.
It was during the question and answer segment, that the voice of a businessman which is never heard in public, suddenly created a buzz inside the premises of the Copacabana Restaurant and Bar on Bay Street where the event was taking place.
All heads soon turned in the direction of the front row as Ram Mirchandani – husband of the more vocal Asha Mrs Ram Mirchandani – rose from his seat beside her and shouted his way to the public microphone stand, where he and popular social commentator Mark Williams ran into each other.
As both men competed for their chance to speak into the microphone – at times appearing to rub shoulders – Mirchandani ensured he was heard by continuous loud cries in protest against the Government’s decision to shut down the Liquidation Centre, owned by the couple, to make way for the Hyatt.
The evidently distraught businessman told the developers who sat on a stage he wanted answers as to why the retail outlet was “taken away” without the Mirchandanis being paid “a single cent”.
By this time, Williams having had control of the microphone periodically interrupted Mirchandani who refused to back down from his calls for payment.
“I want to know who is paying for it [the acquired property]. Is it the …[inaudible] paying for it or the Government that is paying for it. [inaudible]… the property without paying a penny…is that the kind of Barbados we living in?” he asked in his off-mic voice as Williams interjected with comments such as “CLICO will pay”.
Suggesting that such a compensation issue has never happened in Barbados before, the usually silent partner in the Mirchandani business affairs said he was hurt by the non-payment .
He also asked if the Government had adopted a new policy in matters of this kind.
Williams eventually was able to make his contribution and complete it as the business merchant stood shoulder to shoulder with him, not saying a word.
So close was he, that Williams at one point urged Mirchandani to give him some breathing space so he could make his presentation in a more comfortable manner.
But Merchandani was not going anywhere and was right in line to take over the mic at the end of the social commentator’s discourse.
“Can I please have an opportunity…this is very important,” the businessman asked. However, chairman of the meeting Derrick Oderson, a planning consultant with the developers, sought to stop him.
“No, no, no, please,” Oderson said.
But Mirchandani would not surrender. Now in control of the microphone, he made his amplified voice heard above that of the chairman, who by then had given way.
“We are hurting…we are virtually dead. My business has been taken over without a penny being paid. Is that fair. Is that the new policy of the Barbados Government? “ he asked.
“No Government has ever done this before. They have taken my property, they have taken my business. My stock has been locked up and I have been shut out. You think that is fair. It is a bloody shame. If that is the policy, all investors have to be careful that the Government can take over anybody’s property without paying a penny any time they feel like,” he declared.
As he continued, at times repeating himself, his microphone volume took a sudden dip and the chairman capitalized on the situation to make certain statements regarding the state of affairs.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a meeting that we want conducted in an orderly fashion. Mr Ram, your issue is between other parties,” Oderson advised.
But he was interrupted by attorney-at-law and chairman of the Marine Trust Lalu Hanuman who took over the mic and chastised Oderson for the way he handled the situation with Mirchandani.
“Hello, hello. The man has a right to speak. This is censorship. He has a right to speak. Either we have a town hall meeting where the public are…” Hanuman was stating when his mic volume also dropped suddenly and sharply.
Oderson then intervened, informing Hanuman that he did not recognize him… “can you please have a seat”.
The attorney stood his ground and the chair eventually gave him the opportunity to speak after asking his name.
However, this did not happen before he had described the meeting as a farce.
Meanwhile, Oderson said that during construction of the Hyatt, which is still to get planning permission, some 2,500 people will be employed, then 1,500 once it is up and running.
“A total number of indirect induced jobs, taking into account that standard economic principles, is estimated at around 3,270; and the total contribution to GDP [gross domestic product] is projected to be around the region of US$70 million per annum,” he said.
With respect to compensation for the Mirchandanis’ property, the Barbados Government has already rejected any claim that it was not going to honour its legal obligation.
“While Government now effectively owns the property, the process of compensation has not been completed, Attorney General Dale Marshall has said.
However, discussions have been on-going between the Government and the previous owners, with a commitment to pay as soon as an agreement has been reached,” he said in a statement earlier this week.